This isn’t meant to be a fully comprehensive pro and con list of traveling as an American. If it were, this discussion would be a lot, lot longer. But in a nutshell, over the course of our travels in the last 11 years, I’d say that if there is just one massive pro to traveling as an American, it’s the power of the U.S. dollar. The U.S. economy is strong. We live in a country that is a major world power. All of that contributes to why earning money in U.S. dollars is so much to our advantage. It means that in the vast majority of countries where we have traveled, the exchange rate has been in our favor. When we traveled to Australia for a month in December, every time we bought anything, whether it was food or an actual good, when we’d look at the price tag in Australian dollars, we were essentially getting a nearly 40 percent off discount. During our travels in Sri Lanka, the exchange rate was about 300 Sri Lankan rupees to $1 USD, so a grand meal of crab at 1450 LKR cost us a mere $4.50 USD. When I see these exchange rates when I travel, it makes me even more painfully cognizant of how the everyday worker in a country like Sri Lanka would find it quite challenging to be able to not only afford airfare to have a holiday in a country like the U.S., but to actually enjoy a real holiday adventure while away. The average income for someone who identifies as “middle class” in Sri Lanka is about $3,658 USD/year to put this in some perspective.
For the biggest top of mind con of traveling as an American, I would say there’s two things that immediately spring into my head: 1) we don’t have generous vacation policies, and even when we work at companies or in industries where we have “unlimited PTO,” there’s generally an unspoken expectation that it’s NOT a good thing for you to consider taking 2-4 weeks off at a time. My company has a “discretionary PTO policy,” yet if I were to take off more than ten consecutive business days, it would require department head approval, which… is saying quite a bit. It’s always a running joke that Americans think a “long vacation” is five consecutive business days off, yet somehow, our European and Australian counterparts will usually, at minimum, take two weeks off, while a holiday of an entire month is fairly normal. But what this means for us as Americans is that essentially, we have a lot less time to explore any given place. This last trip, we spent five full days in Kerala, and about six days in Sri Lanka across two cities. But that doesn’t even factor in the time spent in transit to and from, which were essentially two full days. We barely made a surface dent on each place because we just didn’t have enough time. Was it fun? Yes. Would it have been even more fun and comprehensive if we’d had more time there? Obviously.
The second con of being an American and traveling? Well, for one, Americans aren’t really known as being the smartest cookies on the planet given our embarrassing math and reading scores, plus how inane a lot of our politicians sound to the world via the media. And two, because we’re not seen as that intelligent, we’re oftentimes the prime targets for pickpockets and con people who are looking to profit off us. A number of my colleagues over the years have fallen into these traps, sadly, and so unfortunately, it’s a bit closer to home for me.